Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 12 2017 01:00PM

My father, James Yaffe, was the man who first introduced me to Jane Austen, buying the ten-year-old me a copy of Pride and Prejudice to tide me over during a family vacation, after I’d zoomed through my suitcaseful of books. (Yes, boys and girls: We had no ebooks back then, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.)

Austen wasn’t the first author he brought into my life: My father was a big fan of the English Victorian novel, so he started me young on Dickens, Trollope, and the Brontes, moving on to Thackeray and Eliot when I got a bit older. He read aloud to me and my siblings for years, progressing from The Wizard of Oz to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, from Jules Verne to Wilkie Collins, with many stops in between.

A published author and college English professor, he edited the articles I wrote for the local newspaper as a high school student. Many years later, he gave me useful notes on my first book, Other People’s Children, and responded enthusiastically when he read Among the Janeites before its publication.

Earlier this month, my father died, at the age of 90. He gave me the incomparably precious gift of the written word, and I’ll always be grateful to him. Thanks, Dad. Wherever you are now, I hope they’ve got a good library.

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 15 2016 01:00PM

I subscribe to the weekly newsletter of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England, so imagine my excitement when this week’s edition included. . . me – or, rather, a link to an excerpt from Among the Janeites posted recently on a website that covers my home state of New Jersey.

NJ Spotlight is not your typical Janeite venue, specializing as it does in “news and analysis about politics and public policy in New Jersey.” As far as I’m aware, Jane Austen never expressed any opinion about New Jersey or anything to do with it. But for the past few years NJ Spotlight has been running a “Summer Reading” series featuring excerpts from books by Jersey authors, and my turn rolled around in late August.

Through the magic of this new-fangled Internet that all the kids are talking about these days, the Bath Jane Austen Centre seems to have run across the NJ Spotlight excerpt. Now if only the Jane Austen Centre's newsletter could come to the attention of folks looking for the perfect gift for the Janeites in their lives. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 28 2016 01:00PM

Listening to a really good actor read aloud from a really good book is one of life’s great pleasures, not to mention my go-to strategy for surviving long, boring car rides. So imagine my excitement when I learned that a troupe specializing in actorly read-alouds will include an excerpt from my book Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom in an Austen-related program this coming Sunday in Denver.

“Welcome to Austenland,” presented by Stories on Stage at Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center, will feature readings from three works: Among the Janeites; an obscure little novel called Emma; and “What Would Austen Do?” by the mother-daughter team of Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, one of the funniest stories in Laurel Ann Nattress’ Jane Austen Made Me Do It collection.

If I still lived in Colorado, I would totally be there, even if my book weren’t on the program. Alas, work and family obligations will prevent me from attending, but if any of you go, please post a review here.

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 11 2016 01:00PM

My next book-related event is scheduled for this Wednesday, April 13, in Princeton, NJ: I’ll be speaking at our lovely independent bookstore -- Labyrinth Books, 122 Nassau Street -- starting at 6 pm.

My talk is sponsored by the Princeton Public Library, which, later this month, will host novelist Curtis Sittenfeld. Her newest book, Eligible, which comes out later this month, is an update of Pride and Prejudice, and the latest entry in the benighted Austen Project. (Blog readers know that I’m not a fan. On the other hand, I’m cautiously optimistic about Eligible, which has some good early buzz.)

Because of the tie-in to the library’s Sittenfeld program, I’m not delivering my usual why-you-should-read-Among-the-Janeites book talk. Instead, I’m giving a talk titled “Rewriting Pride and Prejudice: The Austen Project in the Age of Jane Austen Fanfiction.” But I will be happy – nay, delighted! – to sign copies of my own book for anyone who’s been kind enough to buy one.

The web sites of the bookstore and the library have more details, as does the Events section of my own site. Hope to see you there!

By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 14 2016 01:00PM

Readers of my book Among the Janeites may remember one particularly colorful character: Arnie Perlstein, the Florida lawyer who vigorously promoted his controversial theories about hidden subtextual stories in Jane Austen’s novels.

Now it’s possible to see Arnie in action. The most recent episode of First Impressions, a new Janeite podcast viewable on YouTube, features a ninety-minute interview with Arnie, conducted by the podcast’s hosts, two thirty-ish DC-area friends named Maggie and Kristin.

The podcast focuses on what Arnie believes to be the shadow story of Emma, a sordid tale of adulterous love, crisis pregnancy and clever cover-up. Maggie and Kristin’s podcasting style leans to the shaggy and spontaneous – much white wine is consumed on camera – and their questioning is sympathetic, if sometimes skeptical.

Under their probing, Arnie freely voices many of the opinions that have made him a figure who inspires exasperation, even loathing, among many – though certainly not all – Janeites:

--Austen was bisexual, and her novels feature plenty of hidden-in-plain-sight homosexual pairings. “All of her novels are slash fiction,” Arnie asserts.

--Noble Mr. Knightley is after Emma’s money (“Oh, Arnie, why do you have to ruin the romance?” wails Maggie.)

--The family-generated myth that Jane Austen was a sweet, unthreatening spinster aunt has helped blind generations of readers to her radicalism. “It took two hundred years for these secret messages she planted in everybody’s mind to sprout,” Arnie argues.

--Even writers like Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain, who are on record saying they hated Austen, were closet Janeites. “It’s like six degrees of separation. There is no [great] author before her or after her who is not directly connected to her,” Arnie says. “They’re all engaged with her in some way. It’s like this big picture, that Jane Austen is the center of a wheel.”

Love him or hate him, it’s vintage Arnie.

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